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Reflections on Orlando


Sunday morning as I walked home from the synagogue after spending all night in study and prayer at our annual All-Night Tikkun Leyl Shavuot, I arrived home to hear the tragic news of yet another terrorist attack at a nightclub in Orlando, targeting the LGBT community. The news Sunday morning was shocking and unspeakably tragic. The city of Orlando now has the sullied distinction of forever being mentioned alongside Virginia Tech., Aurora, Sandy Hook, Charleston, San Bernardino and so many other places in our country where mass shootings have now become the norm rather than the exception. As I watched the news, tears were streaming down my face.

I asked myself, “What in God’s name is happening?” There is so much pain. Yet beneath my sorrow, a deep anxiety is brewing. I am not anxious for the men and women of the LGBT community; they have known fear countless times before and have marched, so courageously, into the storms of oppression. I feel confident that they will endure, even as they grieve. No, my fear is that anyone and everyone could become the next victims.

As I absorbed the horrific news from Orlando I could not get out of my mind Ricki Lobel’s finale—hers was the last of eight wonderful sessions of Torah learning on Sunday morning. She gave an amazing summary of the Book of Job. I would not do justice to her presentation by repeating it here. 

But suffice to say that the message of The Book of Job is not comforting, but rather it is realistic. You see, the Book of Job teaches us that the world functions according to the laws of nature, not morality. The philosopher Moses Maimonides (1138-1204) understood this. In his book, Guide of the Perplexed, he points out that we should not make decisions based on morality, but rather on reason, on understanding how the universe functions, for the world works by the laws of nature. Later, he explains that evil is the result of one of three things: people harm themselves, others harm them, or they suffer from natural events.

I recall years ago while visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.; I listened to a recording of a survivor who tells of watching another inmate in the camp praying. “Why are you praying?” He asks. The man answers “I am thanking God.”

The first man is stunned. “For what could you be thanking God? What is there to thank God for in this hell?”

And the second man calmly responds “I am thanking God that he did not make me like them.”

While I know that another terrorist attack can evoke some angry believers and non-believers to question how God could allow such a horrific event, I am not one of those people. I am not at angry at God, but I am angry at those human beings whose God-given free will permitted them to make the choice to commit cold blooded murder. I am angry at those human beings who are leaders in our local, state and federal governments whose God-given free will allows them to make a choice to allow people to have unfettered access to military assault rifles and other firearms which are repeatedly used to terrorize and murder innocent people. And yes, I am angry at the madness and indifference that has permitted such hatred to flourish.

Yes, God created us with free will. We are not perfect human beings, but most of us are not evil. And whether one wants to equate the evil to radical religious beliefs or other extremist dogma, the fact is that to eradicate the evil, the good people in the world need to stand up to hate and evil by creating more light. For even a little light pushes away a lot of darkness. For every shadow of darkness we have seen, we must produce megawatts of blinding light. Just as those possessed by evil did the unfathomable, so, too, we must respond with goodness and kindness. Regardless of our political leanings, all of us who cherish the American dream need to remember John Kennedy’s words: “We must seek, above all, a world of peace; a world in which peoples dwell together in mutual respect and work together in mutual regard; a world where peace is not a mere interlude between wars, but an incentive to the creative energies of humanity.”

“Creative Energies of Humanity”—Let us respond to Orlando by working to battle terror with every ounce of our being without filling our hearts with hatred. If we can find the will and strength to do that, then maybe there is a chance to see a day when we no longer have to live in fear.

Rabbi Reuven Taff, a past president of the Greater Sacramento Board of Rabbis, is rabbi and spiritual leader of Mosaic Law Congregation. Contact him at rabbi@mosaiclaw.org.


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